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Aston Cottage Homes
Workhouse 1851
Sutton Coldfield Parish

Aston Poor Law Union and Workhouses

Aston Poor Law Union was officially declared 12th October 1836, and comprised the Parishes of Aston, Curdworth, Minworth, Sutton Coldfield and Wishaw. 

In Aston Parish, Deritend held an unusual place because manorially it was part of Birmingham. The inhabitants of Deritend owed suit to the Court leet of Birmingham, whose jury chose a separate constable for Deritend.28 The other Hamlets in Aston parish were to some extent independent, their boundaries being clearly defined on a tenurial basis.29 

For poor law purposes the whole of Aston parish was divided in the mid 17th century into two 'hides', Aston hide (apparently comprising the townships of Aston, Witton, Erdington, and perhaps Castle Bromwich and Water Orton) and Duddeston and Nechells hide.30 Aston was much the largest of the ancient parishes now wholly or partly in Birmingham.

28 Hutton, Hist. Birm. (1781), 89, where Deritend is described as a hamlet of Birmingham.
29 See map facing p.1
30 29th Rep. Com. Char. pt.2, H.C. 216, p.1006 (1835), xxi(2)
Source:
Quoted from the Victoria County History, Warwickshire, volume 7,
page 334, by permission of the General Editor.


The Board of Guardians continued to use the existing Parish Workhouse located opposite the Village Green in Erdington, founded c1700, and now the site of Erdington Free Library, until the new Union House was erected.

892 Aston Union new workhouse - foundation stone laid

The chief stone of the new workhouse for the Aston Union has been laid.

The entrance building, with a frontage of 300 ft. has a bold archway in the centre; to the left (or male side) of which is a corridor leading to the clerks' offices, waiting room, and a board room, 34 ft. by 18 ft. and beyond are the rooms for the male probationers and tramps, with all the requisite closets and lavatories.

There are spacious airing-grounds in the rear, leading to the engine-house and such other places as will give useful occupation to the able-bodied men. On the right of the entrance archway are the wards and dormitories for the females of various classes, clothes-store, dining rooms, and other conveniences. In the rear of these entrance buildings are large airing-grounds, divided by a central avenue leading to the main building, of three stories in height, the centre carried somewhat higher than the other portions. The principal material used in the elevations is red brick, with blue brick strings, and stone dressings introduced where appropriate. 

On each side of the entrance are the rooms for the master and matron, communicating with a large central hall, and corridors extending the whole length of the building. These corridors lead to the day-rooms and dormitories, for able, aged, infirm, and imbecile men and women, with store-rooms, lavatories etc. There are two staircases of stone in each division of the building, and in the central hall a grand staircase in three divisions, lighted by a lantern tower, which forms the principal feature in the elevation. In the rear of this are the various domestic offices, including a spacious cooking kitchen and bakery, and connected with the different wards are airing grounds for the respective classes. 

On the male side there are workshops and a mill; on the female side, a wash-house, laundry and other appliances . 

The first floor has a large dining-hall approached by the central staircase, - length 68 ft. width 38 ft. and well lighted on each side. The front centre is, as below, appropriated to the master and matron, and on either side are the dormitories for the men and women, of different classes, with a corridor the entire length of the building, as described on the ground floor. On the second floor there is the same general arrangement of corridor and staircases, and a like division of the sexes on either side of the centre buildings; and on this floor some provision has been made for the future, as there are several spare dormitories. A small portion of the basement has been set apart for cellars, larder, boiler-room, and such other accommodation as could be properly provided underground; but otherwise the building is well above the ground level, and it stands in an elevated position. In the fitting up of lifts, cooking and warming apparatus, etc., every well-proved invention of the best engineers will be used, under the direction of Mr. Yeoville Thomason, the architect. The infirmary will be a separate block of buildings. the builders of the whole are Messrs. Jeffery and Pritchard. The estimated cost of the workhouse and infirmary is about 35,000.
Source:
The Builder 1869 Vol XXVII  6th November 1869
Submitted by Alan Longbottom.


The new Union Workhouse was erected 1866-69 from designs by Yeoville Thomason, architect famous for designing Birmingham Council House, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and The Jaffray Hospital.

The Aston Poor Law Union, which was a single parish union, achieved a measure of notoriety for the economy with which it was run. In 1873 the Chairman of the Board of Guardians boasted that the scale of their expenditure on the poor was "lower than in any other union in the Kingdom". 
There were nearly 300 people in the workhouse, and 160 children in the workhouse schools. For outside relief there was a relieving officer with one assistant. It is clear that while guided by benevolent intentions ~ manifested in the relieving of vagrants and the disregard of the laws of settlement ~ the Aston Guardians were tough, independent, and determined opponents of generous expenditure.35

35 W. Fowler, The Poor Law ..... in Aston Union (Birm. 1873), 3-10
Source:
Quoted from the Victoria County History, Warwickshire, volume 7,
page 335, by permission of the General Editor.


 

Aston Union Workhouse
Ref: 1090040
Rossbret 2004


LINK to further photographs of Aston Workhouse

Workhouse Staff 1900
Rev. Thomas Dallison M.A., Chaplain
John North, Clerk to the Guardians
Edmund Spooner Machin, Medical Officer
W. Davidson, Master
Mrs Eleanor Davidson, Matron
Mrs Eliza Shaw, SchoolMistress
Source: Kelly Directory 1900


Aston Poor Law Union amalgamated with Kings Norton and Birmingham Unions to form the Greater Birmingham Poor Law Union in 1912.

With the introduction of the National Health Service, the Workhouse buildings developed into Highcroft Hospital, to serve the community for many years. However, by the turn of the century, the large imposing building was closed and Mental Health services administered by the newly formed North Birmingham Mental Health NHS Trust. New purpose built units have been provided to take health care forward and the Grade II listed Highcroft Hall is to be sold and converted into residential accommodation. 

Witton Hall

The extension of Witton Hall for the care of healthy mental patients of the merit class - a scheme which cost approximately 12,500 - was formally opened by Councillor F. T. Beddoes (Chairman of the Erdington House and Quinton Hall Sub-Committee).

Witton Hall, he said, was purchased by the Aston Guardians, and came under the control of the Guardians of the Birmingham Union upon the extension of the City in April 1912. That amalgamation brought under one authority three separate groups of Institutions, all of which had their departments to deal with the varied types of inmates which they were called upon to accommodate. 

By setting apart certain Institutions for specified groups it was possible to effect a greatly improved classification scheme adopted by the Birmingham Guardians, Monyhull Colony and Erdington House - of which Witton Hall was an adjunct - were the two Institutions at which it was decided to treat mental cases. In more recent years Erdington had been called upon to deal with the residuum of mental cases, namely the class not suitable for detention in mental hospitals, those who could not be certified under the Mental Deficiency Acts and those not suitable for admission to Monyhull Colony. The extension marked further progress in the provision for the different classes os separate accommodation which experienced administrators regarded as an essential part of skilful treatment. 

After the Lord Mayor had congratulated the Committee on the admirable arrangements made for the care and comfort of the patients, Councillor W. J. Loxley, the Chairman of the Public Assistance Committee, stated ........

the number of patients at Erdington House was 1,673 of whom 957 were mental cases. Of those 957, 63% were low grade and 12% high grade, the others being in the intermediate grade. Those figures showed how difficult was the situation the Public Assistance Committee had to face at Erdington House, an Institution which was built sixty years ago as a general Institution and was never intended for mental cases. Proper classification would undoubtedly result in the committee having to provide very considerable further accommodation. Incidentally, the calling back of old people who were boarded out in other areas, and for whom no accommodation could be found in Birmingham, was also a matter that should engage their attention.  A heavy capital outlay would be necessary to meet the demands which the committee would undoubtedly have to make in the near future in the provision of further accommodation. The cost per bed of the new building worked out at 130, but that did not include the cost of the land, administrative or kitchen quarters, which were already provided.
Source: Public Assistance Journal and Health & Hospital Review 1930


Quinton Hall was founded in 1882 as "Bourne College" by Hugh Bourne, for the sons of primitive Methodists. It was a 19 acre site at Spies Lane, Quinton but closed in 1928 and was renamed Quinton Hall. It became a residential home for pauper men from Birmingham Union. The Hall and Chapel were demolished to make way for the building of the M5 motorway in 1967


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Page last updated 19 December, 2006